It looks like the strange goings-on at the Energy Department may get a little stranger. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has been tooting the clean energy horn practically nonstop since assuming the helm at the agency despite the Trump Administration pro-coal rhetoric. And now renewables may have another champion in Daniel R. Brouillette, a lobbyist who has been nominated to be Perry’s second in command as Deputy Energy Secretary.
Perry has been walking a careful line that includes support, at least on paper, for the energy policy of the Trump Administration. Brouillette is still a mystery. He does have a revolving door resume, but during his confirmation hearing on Thursday he sent out some interesting signals that he is not another Trump Administration yes-man.
Energy Nominee Brushes Off Trump Administration On Oil Reserve
Last week, CleanTechnica conjectured that Brouillette could be Perry’s ally in the fight to keep his agency’s renewable energy programs running. That’s mainly because, aside from his private sector career Brouillette has a military background, and the US Department of Defense is all over renewables — and climate change — like white on rice.
Further cementing the military relationship is Brouillette’s most recent position as a lobbyist for USAA, the financial firm that specializes in services for US military and their families.
Perry himself dropped a hint by tweeting out a supporting message as Brouillette prepared for his Senate nomination hearing. In contrast, Perry never did publicly welcome another recent hire, fossil lobbyist Daniel Simmons. Simmons was appointed to head the agency’s EERE renewables office earlier this month, apparently behind the Secretary’s back (if you can find any such welcome message drop us a note in the comment thread).
As for Brouillette, our friends over at Fuel Fix picked out a couple of clues from his Senate hearing on Thursday, indicating that Brouillette will not be a Simmons-style appointee.
First, Fuel Fix notes that Dan Brouillette was questioned persistently, by both Democrats and Republicans, about a budget proposal by the Trump Administration that involves drawing down the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The Reserve is managed by DOE, which explains why they were asking.
Brouillette’s answer was on point:
“The SPR was set up for a very specific reason… and the definitions and conditions under which it can be sold are very clearly defined,” he said. “I am not familiar with the discussion the administration has had, but as a general matter I would stand by the federal law.”
Those clearly defined conditions for use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve are available all over the Intertubes. DOE’s own website provides a link to the applicable law, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. Here’s Section 161 (d)(1):
Drawdown and sale of petroleum products from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve may not be made unless the President has found drawdown and sale are required by a severe energy supply interruption or by obligations of the United States under the international energy program.
What is not so clearly defined is the sale of oil from SPR to bring down the federal deficit. That has occurred only once, during the Clinton Administration, and the preceding circumstances were unique.
According to DOE’s timeline, back in 1994 a fracture in the Weeks Island salt mine storage site required transfer of 73 million barrels of oil to other SPR sites. The expense of that transfer was balanced by the sale of seven million barrels in 1996.
Then, in 1996 and 1997, additional oil from the Weeks site along and oil from a second site were sold for the purpose of reducing the deficit. The total amount of Weeks oil from both sales was 28.1 million barrels.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The Trump proposal would result in the sale of a far greater amount of oil, namely, more than half of the 687 million barrels currently stockpiled in SPR. That would bring SPR below its 90-day commitment as a member of the International Energy Agency.
Considering Brouillette’s military background it’s a good guess the nominee did not have budget reduction in mind when he said “as a general matter I would stand by the federal law.”
What About Renewables?
Fuel Fix also notes that Brouillette refused to answer a question regarding cuts to a DOE program funding “commercial clean energy projects,” which presumably refers to the slashing of the EERE office. Here’s the money quote:
“I understand this was the president’s request to the Congress. But at the end of the day Congress will work, both the House and the Senate, to determine the final and appropriate numbers for these programs.”
That’s not sayin’ much. But take Brouillette’s experience in the US Army and apply that to the avoidable casualties incurred in fuel convoys during the Iraq war, and you can see a glimmer of a chance that the Deputy-to-be will go to bat for federal policies that support a thriving, innovative domestic clean tech industry.
Right Back At You, President Trump
On Monday, the day the Trump budget was officially released, Perry tweeted out a whole series of messages about his visit to Oak Ridge National Laboratory — which happens to be a hotspot for clean tech research.
On Tuesday Perry issued a brief statement in support of the new budget while emphasizing this:
As we refocus resources, we will continue to utilize our national laboratories for cutting edge science in order to improve both our energy and national security.
Indeed, by Wednesday Perry was right back at it. In addition to following up with more tweets about his visit to ORNL, Perry tweeted a link to a DOE announcement for the latest round of grants for small business, the very thing that would suffer under the Trump budget.
DOE used the announcement to observe that “small businesses play a major role in spurring innovation and creating jobs in the U.S. economy.”
And, just yesterday Perry tweeted news of his “Good Neighbor” award from the US-Mexico Chamber of Commerce, stating that “Mexico will always be an important
#energy partner for the United States.”
That is a bit weird considering the Trump Administration’s rather frisky relationship with Mexico.
But, maybe not so weird in terms of US-Mexico grid integration.
Yes, US-Mexico grid integration, wall or no wall.
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